It was closer than many people had expected, and both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber made uncharacteristic mistakes under pressure in Q3, but in the end there was no doubt about it: Red Bull had the measure of their rivals and convincingly claimed their third consecutive front-row lock out of the season for the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of India.
Vettel recovered from an early misstep in Q3, while Webber was thwarted in his final run with a big lock-up that meant he wasn't able to challenge for pole. Lewis Hamilton put in a late flier to pip his current McLaren team mate Jenson Button for third place, while Fernando Alonso has the unexpected bonus of being joined on the third row of the grid by his Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa.
Force India's Paul di Resta had been the first man to set a flying lap on the Saturday qualifying session, with a time of 1:28.786s on a still-dusty 3.192-mile Buddh International Circuit. His team mate Nico Hulkenberg was then the first driver to dip under below the 1:28s mark with a time of 1:27.766s five minutes into Q1.
Williams' Bruno Senna advanced the benchmark to 1:26.980s just before the midpoint of the session, but then it was time for the front runners to spring into life with Sebastian Vettel immediately going to the top of the timesheets with his first flying lap of 1:26.621s.
Ferrari managed to slide Fernando Alonso into second place with a time of 1:26.829s, as the team attempted to use slipstream drafting down the long straights to improve their top line speed, but Felipe Massa was once again struggling and briefly spun at turn 15, although he was able to recover the car and continue after a brief pause.
The yellow flags for Massa's spin meant that Mark Webber was late setting his own flying lap, but he comfortably beat Alonso's time with a lap of 1:26.771s to make an appearance in third place, with Lewis Hamilton having gone second with a time of 1:26.554s.
A flurry of late flying laps saw the order change in the final minutes of Q1, with Pastor Maldonado ending up on top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:26.048s a third of a second ahead of Vettel's latest lap of 1:26.387s. Nico Rosberg bumped Lewis Hamilton down to fourth place just ahead of his McLaren team mate Jenson Button, while Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen made a late improvement to sixth place ahead of Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso.
All of that meant that the usual suspects were left in the Q1 drop zone, and were joined by the man who had been first out on track. Paul di Resta was paying for that early outing in the dust and now had to hustle to avoid being eliminated. Despite getting caught up in slower traffic he was able to push himself into the relative safety of 14th place.
That left the Toro Rosso duo scrapping over who would be watching from the sidelines, and Daniel Ricciardo's last lap of 1:27.006s was good enough to seal the deal for the Australian and left Jean-Eric Vergne with the ignominy of an 18th place on the starting grid for Sunday's Grand Prix.